The only band this year whose album sleeve features a painting by a former muse of Picasso is an alt-rock quartet from Manchester who go by the name of Sylvette. But the fact that a celebrated artist’s work adorns their debut album is perhaps the least interesting thing about them, for Sylvette is an unusually ravishing proposition. They are the kind of act we don’t see very much of this far into the 21st-century, whose music practically unfolds in Cinemascope, and grips like a vice.
“When I listen to Sylvette I get from it: An intense and dramatic soundscape with some rocking guitar work. Passionate and powerful vocals. It’s my kind of music!” – Phil Cunningham (New Order)
Sylvette is Charlie on guitar and vocals, Ashley Garrod on bass, Oz Tabor on violin, and Pete Leaver on drums. All are in their precociously early 20s, and they hail from across the UK. They first met a couple of years ago at music college in Manchester, and Manchester is where they have since settled. Each of them grew up as music obsessives, listening to everything from Neutral Milk Hotel to Radiohead to Jimi Hendrix to Shostakovich. Though they may have studied music in the classroom, they studied it far more assiduously at home, online, wrapped inside headphones, endlessly listening to favourite songs, picking them apart and dissecting them, before putting them back together again. It was in this way, Charlie says, that they came to hone their craft: “We were very obsessive about how music works, and how to build songs.”
The band has already built up a loyal following throughout Manchester, based largely on word-of-mouth than online presence. Yes, they have an online presence too, but Sylvette isn’t really the kind of band you can fully appreciate on your phone. Their sound is panoramic. They have no manager, no record label. They are truly independent. With good reason, suggests Charlie.
“We just decided that we didn’t want to wait for someone else to come along and discover us. We’ve got the songs, we’ve done the album, and we are going to release it on our own label, then develop, then move on, and grow.”
Day jobs and session work have funded the album’s recording – Charlie has already written the soundtrack to an independent film called Marriage, is part of Manchester’s Synthesiser Orchestra, and has played live across Europe with New Order – and if it was recorded on a shoestring budget, you would never know it from its all-enveloping thumping atmospherics, and its spiralling sonic assault. Debut albums tend not to sound quite so complete as this, with quite so emphatic a vision.
“We’re an albums band, definitely,” says frontman Charlie Sinclair, the tacit suggestion here that it is not their intention, for now, to write radio-friendly confections. No. Their ambitions are grander than that, and an album, for them, is a journey, a mission statement, and a statement of intent.
There is good reason, too, why the majority of songs on the album run to well over five minutes: you couldn’t possibly inhabit the full range of emotions in anything less. By the time Charlie gets to the end of one track, Rebirth, you wonder how he has remained upright. In Hit The Ground, it’s a wonder the listener has. And another, Sweet Sound, is filled with the most keening sense of angst. This is uneasy listening, all of it, and it is utterly riveting.
Waiting In The Bliss, will be released April 20th and is quite the statement of intent. It is tortured and torrid, with hints of Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire, even Led Zepplin with its rococo guitar flourishes. There are vibrating violin solos; the vocals are visceral and anguished. It is music to get lost in, and it is over the top in the way that, for example, Ed Sheeran isn’t. But then this is all rather the point.
They already are reaching people well outside their demographic. Having long admired Picasso’s portrait of the French model whose name they would ultimately take for their own, Charlie decided to track the woman herself down last year. Sylvette David was a French model and artist Picasso grew so obsessed with that he based over 40 paintings on her. She is 83 years old now and lives in England. Charlie found her to be eminently approachable, and they have spoken regularly on the phone. “I sent her some of our music,” he says, “and she said she loved it!”
The twentysomething and the octogenarian have become unlikely friends, but then as Charlie says himself: “It turns out we have a lot in common in terms of artistic outlook.”
It was over the course of their many conversations that the artist offered the band use of one of her paintings – The Cat and I – for their album cover, telling him: “I was very lucky as a young woman, and now I feel happy that I can give back to the next generation of artists.”
Sylvette will make their mark throughout 2018. See them live, be awed, then see them again. Then spread the word.